More than a month ago, Google announced the coming update for the 6th major iteration of its platform... Marshmallow. Of the anticipated updates, the Nexus line of devices would be the first to receive the gooey goodness that promised to bring the most significant updates to some critical Android components (think Now On Tap and app permissions).
The days ticked by. Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock.
- October 5th came and went. No Marshmallow.
- November 5th came and went. No Marshmallow.
- November 15th came and went. No Marshmallow.
Nothing. Nada. Not even a "We're doing our best!" from Google. Thinking this could be an AT&T issue, I switched SIM cards to Verizon, hoping it could be a carrier issue.
No such luck.
My Nexus 6 is still stuck on Lollipop. One and a half months after the announcement of the rollout, and there's nothing to show but Android 5.1.1. Not that I'm complaining about Lollipop... it's been a fantastic release of Android — easily the best yet. And I fully understand that I could manually update to Marshmallow, but I've always found adb dreadful to work with (regardless of platform), so I tend to sit back and wait for the OTA updates.
I've heard rumors of those who have actually received Marshmallow, and I want to say that my reaction isn't coming from sour grapes. I know, full-well, Android rollouts are dictated by many factors: device, carrier, and location. Everything plays into when you get your OTA upgrade.
This is the opposite of what Apple does with its upgrades. When Apple announces a new iteration of iOS, everyone gets it at the same time. This is far from ideal, as upgrade servers get bogged down and devices can get hung up in hours-long upgrades. That is not the case when an Android device upgrades — the process takes minutes.
But for any Nexus owner, this has become a very frustrating issue. The Nexus upgrades used to come a few days or, at most, a couple of weeks after the upgrade was announced. This gets even more frustrating for users of, say, the HTC One M8 who are still stuck with Android 5.0.1. Users with that device aren't even enjoying the improvements made to 5.1.1, and those improvements are significant.
If there is a sore spot with Android, it's the lack of expediency and consistency with upgrades. I am currently staring at multiple Android devices, with the following releases:
- Nexus 6: 5.1.1
- LG G3: 5.1.1
- Droid Turbo: 5.1.0
- HTC One M8: 5.0.1
- Alcatel Idol: 5.0.2
- AT&T Moto X: 5.0.1
- Verizon Moto X: 5.1.0
- Sony Xperia Tablet: 5.0.2
Although you might think the differences in the above releases (ranging from 5.0.2 to 5.1.1) aren't significant, they are. For example, when you jump from 5.0 to 5.1 you receive the new Android interruptions feature, which is much improved over the previous sound control system.
Google needs to address this lack of consistency. First off, I get it, certain devices simply cannot upgrade; older Android handsets don't meet the minimum requirements for Marshmallow. But that doesn't excuse the lack of consistency across the playing field. Why aren't all Droid Moto X devices (regardless of carriers) running 5.1? In fact, why aren't all Droid phones (released after the Moto X) running 5.1.1?
Any IT pro will tell you how much of a nightmare it can be to support not only multiple devices, but multiple devices running different iterations of the platform. If there is any one reason why Google needs to bring a higher level of consistency to the release process of Android, it's that. Of course, it's not just IT pros suffering from this inconsistency. Developers have to deal with it as well. And when faced with an even wider gap (between 5.0.1 to 6.0), this will be a bigger problem.
With over a billion Android units shipped, ranging from low-powered to flagship devices, and then with carriers applying their own bloatware to releases, how is it possible that Google can lay claim to any consistency? And then you add to this mix the open nature of the platform (which is very much a plus), and this difficult feat become almost impossible.
However, I think there's a possible solution.
- First and foremost, Google needs to fix its OTA rollout solution by ensuring all OTA upgrades reach devices within a set time after announcement.
- Second, Google needs to sunset all releases that rely on the older runtime.
- Third, Google needs to reign in carrier bloatware, which makes the OTA release process longer.
Don't get me wrong, I'm a huge fan of Android. I cannot imagine using a different mobile platform. What Google has done to the smartphone landscape is nothing short of brilliant. And I understand this is a challenging process, one that offers many levels of complexity. I also am aware that the process, as it stands, is far from broken, but it is flawed to point of concern for many.
I'm fairly certain Google could at least manage to make minor tweaks to its system that would lead to significant improvements. Even if Google finally put a stop to the scourge that is carrier-induced bloatware, the process would greatly improve — OTA updates would happen much faster, because carriers wouldn't have to roll in and test their own crapware, and end-users would be far happier.
What do you think?
Is the flaw in the Android release system enough to cause you concern? Tell us in the discussion.
Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website jackwallen.com.